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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry greets U.S. Marines as he arrives June 23 at the American embassy in the International Zone in the Iraqi capital Baghdad. (AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Boosts Baghdad Diplomatic Security With 350 More Soldiers

by Chris Hopkins and Doreen McCallister
Sep 3, 2014

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Chris Hopkins and Doreen McCallister

The U.S. is adding 350 more troops to help protect the American Embassy in Baghdad and its support facilities in the Iraqi capital.

That raises the number of U.S. forces in the country to more than 1,000, officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The additional troops, which were requested by the State Department, will not serve in a combat role.

The additional joint forces will come from within the U.S. Central Command area of operations and will include a headquarters element, medical personnel, associated helicopters, and an air liaison team, a Pentagon statement said.

The latest increase in troops comes on the same day Islamic State militants released a video claiming U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff had been beheaded.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, had threatened Sotloff's life when it released a video showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley two weeks ago.

President Obama is in Estonia to meet with Baltic leaders, and then will attend the NATO summit in Wales where allies will discuss a strategy against the Islamic State.

Also on Tuesday, the Pentagon disclosed that American airstrikes in Iraq destroyed or damaged 16 Islamic State armed vehicles near Mosul Dam.

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A Russian capsule that housed a gecko space-sex experiment. The geckos all died. (ROSCOSMOS)

Russian Space Experiment On Gecko Sex Goes Awry

Sep 2, 2014

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A brave geckonaut from Russia's Institute Biomedical Problems.

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Space is a dangerous place. That message resonated again on Monday, when the Russian Federal Space Agency — Roscosmos — announced that a team of experimental geckos tasked with copulating while in orbit did not survive their journey.

"All geckos, unfortunately, died," the space agency said in a terse statement.

Roscosmos is launching an investigation into the exact circumstances surrounding the geckos' deaths, but the mission seemed star-crossed from the start.

On July 19, the Foton-M4 satellite lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Onboard were several experiments from the Institute of Biomedical Problems designed to study life in space.

The star experiment was "Gecko-F4," which according to a Google translation of the agency's website was designed to "create conditions for sexual behavior, copulation and reproduction of geckos in the orbital experiment." Video cameras were set up to capture the geckos in the act, along with any eggs that resulted.

But shortly after launch, ground control said the Foton-M4 stopped responding to commands. Controllers spent several days battling to reconnect with the spacecraft. During that time the status of the geckos, and their sexual activity, remained unclear. Nor was it clear whether the Foton-M spacecraft was capable of safely returning to Earth. The scenario was a little like the ill-fated flight of Apollo 13 in 1970 (except in most respects it was completely different).

Eventually contact was re-established with the spacecraft, and it did travel back to Earth. But the geckos appear to have died somewhere along the way. Ria Novosti quotes the head of the experiment, Sergei Savelyev, as saying the geckos very likely died just two days before landing. It appears that part of the capsule's life-support system had quit working.

Not all life aboard perished, however. Roscosmos reports that some fruit flies appeared to have survived the journey. What's more, they successfully reproduced.

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A Russian capsule that housed a gecko space-sex experiment. The geckos all died. (ROSCOSMOS)

The Troubling Implications Of The Celebrity Photo Leak

Sep 2, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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To learn more about the recent celebrity photo hack, Melissa Block speaks with Matthew Green of Johns Hopkins University. They discuss how the photos might have been obtained, as well as how you can protect your own material saved to the cloud.

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MRAPs And Bayonets: What We Know About The Pentagon's 1033 Program

by Arezou Rezvani
Sep 2, 2014

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Amid widespread criticism of the deployment of military-grade weapons and vehicles by police officers in Ferguson, Mo., President Obama recently ordered a review of federal efforts supplying equipment to local law enforcement agencies across the country.

So, we decided to take a look at what the president might find.

NPR obtained data from the Pentagon on every military item sent to local, state and federal agencies through the Pentagon's Law Enforcement Support Office — known as the 1033 program — from 2006 through April 23, 2014. The Department of Defense does not publicly report which agencies receive each piece of equipment, but they have identified the counties that the items were shipped to, a description of each, and the amount the Pentagon initially paid for them.

We took the raw data, analyzed it and have organized it to make it more accessible. We are making that data set available to the public today.

Here's what we found:

1. Gear: MRAPs, Bayonets And Grenade Launchers

The 1033 program is the key source of the most visible, big-ticket, military item being sent to local law enforcement: mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs. Designed to withstand bullets, grenades and roadside bombs on the front lines of war, more than 600 of them have been sent to local law enforcement agencies in almost every state in the U.S., mostly within the past year. Los Angeles County, for example, has nine of these vehicles, six of which were obtained just this past March.

But the program is a conduit for much more than just MRAPs. Since 2006, through the 1033 program, the Pentagon has also distributed:

  • 79,288 assault rifles
  • 205 grenade launchers
  • 11,959 bayonets
  • 3,972 combat knives
  • $124 million worth of night-vision equipment, including night-vision sniper scopes
  • 479 bomb detonator robots
  • 50 airplanes, including 27 cargo transport airplanes
  • 422 helicopters
  • More than $3.6 million worth of camouflage gear and other "deception equipment"

2. More Than Just Combat Gear

It turns out that weapons are a relatively small part of the 1033 program.

Each item in the database has a National Stock Number (NSN), which NPR used to determine the general category of each item and gain a broader understanding of what types of equipment have been made available through the 1033 program. The list includes building materials, musical instruments and even toiletries. (We've added those categories to the data we're publishing today.)

Actual weaponry, not including vehicles of any kind, account for just over 3 percent of the total value of all goods sent out by the Pentagon between 2006 and April.

3. What The Data Don't Tell Us: Why?

Congress authorized the 1033 program in 1989 to equip local, state and federal agencies in the war on drugs. In 1996, Congress widened the program's scope to include counterterrorism. But the data do not confirm whether either of those public safety goals are, in fact, driving decisions about the distribution of equipment. Areas with large populations or high crime rates aren't necessarily receiving more or less than their share of the items. Nor is a greater amount of equipment being sent to areas along the U.S. borders or coasts, places more likely to be drug trafficking corridors or terrorist targets.

Looking exclusively at who is getting what, the data don't clearly point to why certain agencies are receiving more surplus items than others.

Here's how it works: Equipment is posted to LESO's (the 1033 program office) website, and then local agencies can request it. Only state coordinators to the Defense Logistics Agency are tasked with approving or denying those requests.

We did see trends in the data over time that show patterns of military overstocking and surplus.

What The Data Don't Tell Us: The Local Story

Our analysis of the data only took us so far. Many questions remain.

The data are merely a starting point for further exploration into why certain overstocked and surplus items are — and aren't — being requested. Questions remain about how and why they are being used, and the benefit, if any, to local law enforcement.

We've provided NPR member stations with the tools to begin asking these and other questions. With reporting at the national and local levels, we will continue to follow this story.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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A still from a video posted on YouTube shows a suspected Ebola patient who allegedly escaped from a treatment center. (via YouTube)

A Suspected Ebola Patient On The Run In Liberia

Sep 2, 2014

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A newly released video shows health workers in Liberia attempting to capture a suspected Ebola patient, who had allegedly escaped from a treatment center on Sept. 1.

Clad in a red shirt, the man was wearing a badge indicating that he was being treated for Ebola at the ELWA hospital in the Paynesville neighborhood of Monrovia, the capital city. The Ebola wards at ELWA have been so overcrowded that at times they've had to turn away people suspected of being infected with the deadly virus.

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